Japan has long had a loved for cats, and Setouchi is no exception. From darling little kittens depicted on 9th-century scrolls to cat ears and cat petting cafes, Japan’s adoration of these enchanting and infuriating creatures is plain to see. Stunning seascapes, gorgeous beaches, incredible seafood, and rich local culture aside, the region around the Seto Inland Sea is also home to some purr-fect destinations that cat-lovers won’t want to miss.
There are a few cat islands in Japan, but none are quite as famous—or densely populated with cats—as Aoshima in Ehime prefecture. Cats outnumber residents some 36:1 here, and while feral, they are very friendly. They were originally introduced to the island to hunt mice in a bustling fishing village.
Aoshima has no tourism facilities, so you will need to bring what you need with you, but any cat lover who visits will have no problem whiling away the hours. Visitors are encouraged to play and interact with these furry felines and feed Aoshima’s furry residents in designated areas. Find out more: Aoshima, the Purest Cat Island in the Seto Inland Sea
How to get there: Aoshima is located in Ehime prefecture. Make your way to Nagahama Port, a stone’s throw from JR Iyo-Nagahama station. From there, you can take a ferry to Aoshima (twice a day, 8:00 am and 2:30 pm departures, 35 mins).
This delightfully tranquil island has achieved quiet fame since the 2010 publication of Manabeshima Island Japan, a travel guide-graphic novel mash-up by Florent Chavouet that celebrates the island’s picturesque scenery and incredible seafood. Its abundance of seafood finds happy (if unpaying) customers in the many feral cats which reside there, and human visitors can indulge in freshly caught, expertly cooked fish and seafood year-round, too.
Manabeshima’s gorgeous beaches mean it is often used as a filming location, while its population of just 200-odd guarantees peace and quiet. With nothing to do but enjoy the peace and indulge in the food, it’s no wonder cats like it here. Find out more: A Quiet Stay on one of Japan’s Cat Islands: Manabeshima
How to get there: Manabeshima is located in Okayama prefecture. Head to Kasaoka Port, a 5-minute walk from JR Kasaoka Station, then take a high-speed (44 mins) or a regular (70 mins) boat to the island.
Neko-no-Hosomichi, or cat alley, is a narrow road in Nagae, Onomichi City in Hiroshima prefecture. The trail starts just after Onomichi’s Maneki-Neko Museum, filled with 3,000-plus Maneki-Neko (lucky cats) from the Meiji era to the present day. Its runs for some 200m up to the three-tiered pagoda of Tennei-Ji Temple and is peppered with stones painted as cats, called Fukui-Neko.
These artworks are all by Shunji Sonoyama, a local artist, placing them along the trail in 1998. Stroke the head of a fukuishi-Neko three times, and good fortune will be yours – it’s said. The trail runs through a part of Onomichi known as Itahov: a treasure trove of art galleries, bars, and cafes that’s perfect for meandering.
How to get there: Onomichi city is in Hiroshima prefecture. Cat Alley is a 15-minute walk from JR Onomichi Station. The Setouchi Training Platform is an agent training tool that will allow you to learn about the seven prefectures that make up the Setouchi region and the 3,000 islands that rise from the tranquil waters of the Seto Inland Sea.
This training programme will teach you about each prefecture’s distinctive character and alluring attractions and this relatively unexplored region’s unique geography. Just as Setouchi’s visitors do, you will discover breath-taking landscapes, fascinating history, rich culture, both ancient and new, cosmopolitan cities and unforgettable adventures – all with a warm, revitalising welcome.